Leaving his mark

Oct. 4, 2017
Persistence and a commitment to recruiting other distributors into the tool selling business have helped South Carolina-based independent Mark Remai succeed for the last three decades.

“I’ve done this a long time. This deal here has given me a spark,” independent distributor Mark Remai says, as he steps off his tool truck.

Remai has been in the tool selling business for nearly 30 years, and he has seen his fair share of changes in the industry. The Greenville County, South Carolina-based tool distributor says he’s been rejuvenated with the business since going independent and becoming a GearWrench Street Team member in 2014.

“I did this here, and it’s like when I started this business,” Remai says of becoming an independent distributor. “This business years ago was nothing but fun.”

The shift in his business, along with helping his son, Dylan Remai, establish his own tool truck, has reinvigorated Remai’s perspective on selling tools.

A fresh start

Remai got his start in the mobile tool business in late 1986 when he took over a franchise route in Daytona Beach, Florida. After three years running the route, he became a district manager in South Carolina, where he still is today. He climbed the ranks and became a top district manager with that company.

Ten years later in 1998, he made a move to another franchise, only after taking time off from having open heart surgery. Remai ran that route for 17 years, and says he ranked as a top tool distributor for 10 years in a row, until he decided to go independent in 2014.

As a franchise, Remai says he eventually became frustrated with the business. He heard about the GearWrench Street Team through his cousin and independent distributor Stacey Remai, who is based in Washington, Pennsylvania, and decided to pursue establishing an independent route.

Since going independent, Remai says he has had success with the bonuses and promotions available through GearWrench, and appreciates his relationship with his primary warehouse distributor, Medco.

In particular, he says Medco listens to him on suggestions for improvement, and he likes the ability to easily drop ship product orders directly to customers. 

Day-to-day operations

While Remai launched his independent business relatively recently, he is still servicing many of the same customers he saw when he first started his South Carolina route as a franchise truck. This longevity has allowed him to continue to maintain the relationships he has developed over the years.

“There’s probably no one on this route I wouldn’t go home and eat dinner with their family,” Remai says. “That’s pretty neat. After a while you know the grandkids.”

He says the long-term relationships he has built with this customer base, regardless of his brand, have helped him build trust with customers.

“There is nothing that can replace that,” Remai says. “That is awesome, when people can trust you like that. Years of being around, that’s exactly what it is. And, not cheating people. You’ll get tool guys out there that are crooked as the day is long. I don’t cheat nobody.”

With how long he has been in business, Remai has encountered his fair share of unfortunate events – namely the unexpected death of a customer –  on the route as well. He’s quick to point out he never contacts the family afterward to repossess tools or ask for the remaining tool truck balance.

Of Remai’s customer base, most stops are in rural and small towns. He services primarily light duty automotive shops, with 25 percent of his customer base as collision repair. He only sees two truck shops, and a handful of specialty shops like motorcycle rebuilders. 

Remai varies his approach based on the stop: sometimes he goes in to greet customers, and other times customers will come out to the truck once he arrives.

Prior to selling tools, Remai worked as a body shop technician. He confirms this previous experience has helped him to understand the collision repair side of the business. He says there are two aspects he considers when approaching these customers: the attitude and approach the customers take with tool truck dealers, and the types of tools to sell to these shops. 

“They’re just ball busters,” Remai says, of some body shop technicians. “They’ll aggravate you to death. And some guys [distributors] can’t stand that. They’ll just jerk you around to see where your button is.  But, once you get to them, they’re alright.”

Having worked in collision repair previously, Remai is quick to spot useful tools for those customers.

“Being in that business, I’ll see a tool at one of the shows and I’ll be like, ‘Okay, I can see where that thing can go.’ And that helps a lot,” Remai says.

One of Remai’s challenges, like many independent distributors, is the ability to finance. While he has access to Timed Payment, a third party company that provides financing for larger customer purchases, the company requires a credit check of the customer – relying on a good credit score for approval.

However, with Remai’s long-established customer base, he says he doesn’t have an issue with self-financing many of his customers on a truck account.

Building a network

Over his 30 years in the business, Remai estimates he has helped or recruited about 30 other distributors through the different flags, and as an independent.

The two distributors he has arguably had the most impact on are Bob Williams and Dylan Remai. Both also operate routes in the Greenville County area.

Remai says he recruited Williams after moving to South Carolina, while Remai was working as a district manager. Williams was working as a service manager for Goodyear, and transitioned to the tool truck. In business since 1992, Williams services the more populous and industrial areas of Greenville County, including a number of heavy duty equipment and trucking facilities. He also went independent in 2014, after Remai.

He has been on the same route for 24 years, and has never missed a beat,” says Remai about Williams. “He’s been real good on his service. He’s not a salesman, that’s what he says. But he’s a good salesman.”

Dylan Remai, Mark’s son, established his route in March of 2016, with guidance from his father. Dylan sold $280,000 his first year alone, and he’s on pace to break that record in 2017.

“[Dylan] started brand new (from scratch),” Remai says. “What I’d do is go out on Saturdays and Mondays, and I set it up, because being a [district manager previously] I know how to set a route up. So I had it all set up; he just had to go follow it.”

“I don’t do Mondays, so I went with [Dylan] on a Monday (the first week),” Remai adds. “And after that, he’s been all on his own.”

Remai also finds that the new perspective his son brings to the business has helped keep it fresh.

Remai and his son will talk on the phone near daily to see how the other is doing, for friendly competition to see how much one or the other sold or to ask questions about products or customers. He especially enjoys being able to work in this business with his son.

“I feed off that,” Remai says of working together with Dylan, and having friendly competition. “It’s neat to see him [succeed].”

While Williams, Remai and Dylan operate independently alongside one another, each route has a distinct customer base.

“What he sells and what I sell are totally different,” Remai says. “And we’re side-by-side.”

Williams has nearly 85 percent heavy duty truck shops, and Dylan’s route makes up about half truck stops. Remai, on the other hand, has nearly all light duty automotive shops.

“Here’s the thing we learned with the truck shops: when the economy died, they did not,” Remai says. “They moved right along. Because no matter what, freight has to move … where the automotive people would hold off on getting something fixed until the last moment.”

“Truck shops took me through the hard times,” Williams confirms. “When automotive was down, they kept me going. They just keep me going now.”

All three distributors meet Wednesday evenings on a weekly basis to catch up and discuss how each business is going.  

“It’s neat, that atmosphere,” Remai says of meeting up with Williams and Dylan. “You can get stuff out. Like, I’ve got to give money to [Williams] for a guy, and he just gave me money for a guy. It works out [well].”

In addition to talking about and sharing customer information and payments, they will share what’s been selling well on the truck, and vent any frustrations they may be having that week.

Business outlook

For any distributor in the business, Remai says the best advice he has received and gives to others is to be persistent and consistent.

“You can’t beat somebody that never stops,” he says. “You keep going, keep going, and they’ll say, ‘Hey, this guy wants the business.’”

He says this approach is what can drive customers to buy from him.

One aspect he has focused on in particular is listening to customers.

“They might say they’ll need something later on,” Remai says of conversations with customers. “Well, later on is next week. Order it. Walk in the [shop] next week with it.”

With Remai’s inventory in general, he likes to keep a fully stocked truck. But, along with having so much on the truck and stored at home, he sometimes has difficulty trying to find a place to keep everything.

“I learned, as a young guy in this business, you can’t sell out of an empty truck,” Remai says. “So, I have a massively full truck. And it works. Except it’s a little hard to keep tidy.”

Remai currently runs his route four days per week, using Mondays as a service day to organize inventory, send in broken tools or tools for warranty, pick up and deliver products for customers and complete other internal business operations.

On days Remai drives his route, he will work about 10 to 12 hours, or more. He puts in more than 40 hours over the road for the four days he runs his route, in addition to the full service day.

And while Remai has no plans in place to retire just yet, he has considered moving to a three-day week in the distant future. 

“You have to work hours if you want to make it in this business,” Remai says. “This is no different than being a farmer. It never stops. There’s always something has to be done.”

About the Author

Erica Schueller | Editorial Director | Commercial Vehicle Group

Erica Schueller is the Editorial Director of the Endeavor Commercial Vehicle Group. The commercial vehicle group includes the following brands: American Trucker, Bulk Transporter, Fleet Maintenance, FleetOwner, Refrigerated Transporter, and Trailer/Body Builders brands.

An award-winning journalist, Schueller has reported and written about the vehicle maintenance and repair industry her entire career. She has received accolades for her reporting and editing in the commercial and automotive vehicle fields by the Truck Writers of North America (TWNA), the International Automotive Media Competition (IAMC), the Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Awards and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Azbee Awards.

Schueller has received recognition among her publishing industry peers as a recipient of the 2014 Folio Top Women in Media Rising Stars award, acknowledging her accomplishments of digital content management and assistance with improving the print and digital products in the Vehicle Repair Group. She was also named one Women in Trucking’s 2018 Top Women in Transportation to Watch.

She is an active member of a number of industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC),  the Auto Care Association's Young Auto Care Networking Group, GenNext, and Women in Trucking.

In December 2018, Schueller graduated at the top of her class from the Waukesha County Technical College's 10-week professional truck driving program, earning her Class A commercial driver's license (CDL).  

She has worked in the vehicle repair and maintenance industry since 2008.

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